Prevalence of domestic and family violence
Data on the prevalence of domestic and family violence
This chapter summarises the evidence the committee received on the
prevalence of domestic and family violence.
Personal Safety Survey
The most comprehensive data that is available in relation to the
prevalence of domestic and family violence in Australia is from the Australian
Bureau of Statistics' (ABS) Personal Safety Survey (PSS).
In terms of the overall prevalence of violence, the PSS found that men
were more likely than women to experience violence:
In 2012 it was estimated that 8.7% of all men aged 18 years
and over (737,100) and 5.3% of all women aged 18 years and over (467,300) had
experienced violence in the 12 months prior to the survey...
In 2012 it was estimated that 49% of all men aged 18 years
and over (4,148,000) and 41% of all women aged 18 years and over (3,560,600)
had experienced violence since the age of 15.
However, in terms of the prevalence of 'partner violence',
the PSS reported that women were more likely than men to experience violence by
In 2012, an estimated 17% of all women aged 18 years and
over (1,479,900 women) and 5.3% of all men aged 18 years and over (448,000 men)
had experienced violence by a partner since the age of 15.
The ABS also reported on the prevalence of partner violence during the
previous 12 months:
Women were more likely than men to have experienced violence
by a partner in the 12 months prior to the survey. In the 12 months prior to
the survey an estimated 132,500 women (1.5% of all women aged 18 years and
over) had experienced violence by a partner compared to 51,800 men (0.6% of all
men aged 18 years and over).
The survey also compared changes in the prevalence of partner violence
Between 2005 and 2012 [when the PSS surveys were conducted] there
was no statistically significant change in the proportion of women and men who
reported experiencing partner violence in the 12 months prior to the survey.
The ABS surveyed for the prevalence of 'emotional abuse'
by a partner:
Women are more likely than men to have experienced emotional
abuse by a partner since the age of 15. In 2012 an estimated 25% (2,142,600) of
all women aged 18 years and over and 14% (1,221,100) of all men age 18 years
and over had experienced emotional abuse by a partner since the age of 15...
Women were more likely than men to have experienced emotional
abuse by their current partner in the 12 months prior to the survey. Women were
also more likely than men to have experienced emotional abuse by a previous
partner in the 12 months prior to the survey...
While the prevalence data in the PSS was often cited in submissions, a
limited number of submissions raised issues with methodology of the PSS. For
example, Mr Paul Mischefski, Vice-President of Men's Wellbeing Inc,
Despite repeated calls for this highly-regarded and quoted
survey to achieve gender parity and include an equal number of female and male
respondents, the survey has consistently shown an immense bias towards a female
The 2005 survey included 11,800 females but only 4500 males.
This heavy gender bias became even worse in the 2012 survey, where only 22% of
respondents were male – less than one-quarter.
Women with Disabilities Victoria stated that women with disabilities are
'vastly under-represented' in the PSS and recommended that the ABS 'adopt
appropriate methodologies to achieve a representative sample of women with
disabilities in the Personal Safety Survey'.
The Multicultural Centre for Women's Health contended that data
collection surveys such as the PSS 'are not designed to adequately account for
the experiences of immigrant and refugee women'.
Our Watch stressed the importance of ensuring that the PSS involved
sample sizes of different community groups:
PSS and [National Community Attitudes Survey (NCAS)] sample
sizes for different community groups – particularly Indigenous communities,
women with disabilities, and different [culturally and linguistically diverse]
communities – are largely insufficient [to] allow statistically-significant
analysis, measure changes, or inform prevention activities for these groups.
Our Watch recommended that in future the PSS (and the NCAS) include:
large enough cohorts of different groups to ensure
statistical relevance and aid systematic quantitative analysis.
A number of submissions also noted that any domestic and family violence
statistics are likely to underestimate the prevalence of the issue, due to
victims not reporting violent incidents.
This issue, and other matters in relation to the collection of data, are
further discussed in Chapter 5.
As part of the National Plan, the PSS is due to be conducted every four
The Implementation Plan for the First Action Plan provides the following
information on the work that goes into the preparation of the PSS:
Activities such as national surveys require long lead times
for development and testing and it was essential to start the process as soon
as practicable. During the first year, significant work was undertaken on the
development of the Personal Safety Survey (PSS). This included the Australian
Bureau of Statistics (ABS) working with Commonwealth, state and territory and
non-government representatives to identify new content for the PSS. In addition
survey instruments have been developed and tested with both survivors of
domestic violence and sexual assault and a broader community sample. Specific
interviewer training has been developed and tested.
International Violence Against
Submissions also referred to information on the prevalence of domestic
and family violence in the International Violence Against Women Survey.
The Australasian component of the 2013 survey reported that 28 per
cent of women had experienced physical or sexual violence from an intimate
In the 2004 survey, 34 per cent of Australian women aged between 18 and 69
had experienced some form of violence by a current or previous partner.
A number of submissions referred specifically to the prevalence of domestic
and family violence-related homicides. For example, academics from the
University of Melbourne provided the following information from the National
Homicide Monitoring Program for the years 2008-09 to 2009-10:
Australia-wide...1 in 5 murders involved intimate partners (23
percent in each year 2008/09 and 2009/10), and overwhelmingly in these cases,
women were killed by men (75%). Two thirds occurred between current spouses or
de facto partners, and over a quarter occurred between separated/divorced
spouses or de facto partners...
Over 10 per cent of family violence-related homicides in
Australia involve child victims and the overwhelming majority are killed by a
parent. On average, 27 children are killed by their parents in Australia each
In February 2015, the National Homicide Monitoring Program released the
figures of homicide in Australia for the period 2010-11 to 2011-12. In the
period, 1 July 2010 to 30 June 2012, there were a total of 479 homicide
incidents – 236 in 2010-11 and 243 in 2011-12.
There were 187 were domestic homicide incidents, of which 109 (or 58 per cent)
were classified as intimate partner homicide.
The report also states:
Where both victim sex and relationship classification could
be determined, a higher proportion of victims of intimate partner homicide were
female (n=83; 76% of domestic homicides)[.]
The committee also received evidence on the rate of domestic and family
violence- related homicides in specific state jurisdictions. In Victoria in
2012-13, there were 44 deaths as a result of family violence, 'nearly one per
The Women's Council for Domestic and Family Violence Services (WA) referred to
homicide statistics from NSW:
In NSW in the 12 months to September 2012, around
three-quarters of female homicide victims (27 out of 35) were killed by someone
with whom they were in a domestic relationship. This compares to one-fifth of
male homicide victims (11 out of 57).
The One in Three Campaign also referred to NSW statistics, noting the NSW
Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) findings:
BOCSAR also examined trends and characteristics of domestic
homicides in NSW over the period January 2003 to June 2008. During this time,
there were 215 victims of domestic homicide; 115 females and 100 males (almost
one in two victims were male). Intimate partners were responsible for 43 per
cent of domestic homicide victims (70 females and 23 males - one in four were
Domestic and family violence
As set out above, the PSS provides some data on the prevalence of domestic
and family violence against men. However, submissions also highlighted other
data which is available. For example, the One in Three Campaign cited the 1999
South Australian Interpersonal Violence and Abuse Survey which found:
32.3 per cent (almost one in three) victims of reported
domestic violence by a current or ex-partner (including both physical and
emotional violence and abuse) were male.
The NSW Government submission also provided some data on the prevalence
of domestic and family violence against men:
In the twelve months to March 2014, 69 per cent of victims of
domestic violence-related assaults in NSW were women. There were 21,664 female
victims compared to 9,925 male victims. This equates to a rate per 100,000
population of 594 for females and 277 for males.
Specific groups at risk of domestic and family violence
The terms of reference also refer to the prevalence of domestic violence
as it affects vulnerable groups including 'women living with a disability' and
'women from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds'. The committee
recognises these are not the only vulnerable groups and acknowledges the
following list of vulnerable groups, provided by Victoria Police, who may face
additional barriers in reporting and seeking assistance in domestic and family
culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD), non-English
speaking new and emerging migrant communities;
people with disabilities;
people experiencing mental health issues;
people in same sex relationships;
transgender and intersex persons;
young people; and
older people experiencing intimate partner and intergenerational
The introduction to the Second Action Plan 2013-2016 includes some data
for specific groups of the community, namely Indigenous women, women with a
disability and women from CALD backgrounds:
Indigenous women are 31 times more likely to be hospitalised
due to family violence related assaults than other women. Women with disability
are more likely to experience violence and the violence can be more severe and
last longer than for other women. A recent survey of 367 women and girls with
disability found that 22 per cent had been affected by violence in the previous
year. Women from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) and new and
emerging communities who experience violence can also face significant
difficulties, including a lack of support networks, language barriers,
socio-economic disadvantage, and lack of knowledge of their rights and
The committee also received other evidence on the prevalence of domestic
and family violence in specific groups at risk and the factors which may make
these groups particularly vulnerable.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Many submissions noted the higher prevalence of domestic and family
violence among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. For example, the
joint submission from Women's Legal Services Australia and the National
Association of Community Legal Centres provided the following information:
[A]pproximately 25% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
women had experienced one or more incidents of physical violence in the
previous 12 months [and] 94% knew the perpetrator.
Our Watch referred to findings from the National Homicide Monitoring
Program of the Australian Institute of Criminology:
Just over half of Indigenous homicide victims were killed in
a domestic homicide, of which the most common subcategory was intimate partner
homicide (42 per cent).
Two in every five Indigenous victims of homicide were female,
higher than the equivalent proportion of female non-Indigenous homicides
(31 per cent).
Submissions also referred to the data on the prevalence of violence in
the Australian component of the International Violence Against Women Survey.
For example, Women's Health West:
In the [International Violence Against Women] survey itself,
7 per cent of non-Indigenous women reported experiencing physical
violence, compared to 20 per cent of Indigenous women. Three times as many
Indigenous women reported experiencing an incident of sexual violence, compared
to non-Indigenous women.
Women with a disability
The Office of the Public Advocate (Victoria), provided research which
demonstrates that women with disabilities are at greater risk of experiencing
family and sexual violence compared with both men with disabilities and women
Domestic Violence Victoria summarised the circumstances that place women with
disabilities at risk, and the reasons that they did not seek or receive
Women with disabilities are among the most socially and
economically marginalised in the community. Women with disabilities experience
violence at significantly higher rates than other women and have greater
difficulty in accessing support services. Many women with disabilities are
subject to the control of others, and experience high levels of violence from
family members and carers. Women with disabilities are less likely than other
women to report family violence, and less likely to receive services that meet
their needs. In addition, over a third of women who sought assistance for
family violence from disability services acquired a disability as a result of
the abuse. Women with disabilities may live in inappropriate accommodation,
where they are vulnerable to abuse and/or live without adequate support in the
The National Cross-Disability Disabled People's Organisations informed
To date, there have been no national studies or
research conducted to establish the prevalence, extent, nature, causes and
impact of violence against people with disability in different settings. There
is no systematic data collection in Australia on violence against people with
disability, including domestic violence.
However, the National Cross-Disability Disabled People's Organisations,
along with other submissions, were able to provide some data on the prevalence
of domestic and family violence against women with a disability:
Women with disability are 40% more likely to be the victims
of domestic violence than women without disability, and more than 70% of women
with disability have been victims of violent sexual encounters at some time in
their lives. Twenty per cent of women with disability report a history of
unwanted sex compared to 8.2% of women without disability. The rates of sexual
victimisation of women with disability range from four to 10 times higher than
for other women. Ninety per cent of Australian women with an intellectual
disability have been subjected to sexual abuse, with more than two-thirds (68%)
having been sexually abused before they turned 18 years of age.
The Federation of Ethnic Communities' Councils of Australia (FECCA) also
cited research on the prevalence of violence against women with disabilities
and the specific factors making this group vulnerable to violence:
Research suggests that, in general, women living with
disability are twice as likely to become victims of domestic violence as those
living without disability. Most often, their vulnerabilities are exacerbated by
their impairment, their dependence on others for assistance, and their
inability to effectively access support services. Violence can be used as a
tool to maintain control over women with disability and to instil fear, which
is further problematised by the perpetuator often being the person that the
victim is depending upon.
Dr Jessica Cadwallader, Advocacy Project Manager, Violence Prevention,
Australian Cross Disability Alliance, noted that what data is available
indicates that women, men and children with a disability experience 'much, much
higher levels of violence than others in their community, and often in their
Dr Cadwallader referred to the lack of reliable disaggregated quantitative
data, with most methodologies used in Australia systematically excluding many
people with a disability:
One of the main impediments to the inclusion of people with
disability and prevention and response frameworks is the dominant definition of
domestic violence. Usually policies, services and legislation define domestic
violence as more or less intimate partner violence occurring in a private home.
This excludes the places that many people with disability call home. This is
solely because others, workers, governments, service providers, consider their
home to be a workplace—a group home, a [community residential unit (CRU)], a
boarding house, an institution—but not a home. But these are homes for people
Similarly, domestic violence definitions frequently exclude
some of the relationships in which people with disability experience violence.
The relationship with a support worker can mirror many of the forms of
interdependence found in families or an intimate partnership, even when that
worker is not going beyond what they are paid to do. A support worker may
grocery shop for a person with disability, help pay their bills, ensure that
their medication is provided or be responsible for showering a person with
disability. Just as the interdependence and family relationships can be what
enables such devastating violence, support workers often have just as much, or
perhaps more control, over the home lives of people with disability. The
withdrawal of life-sustaining supports can be a key element of domestic
violence against people with disability.
Women from a culturally and
linguistically diverse background
A number of submissions highlighted the lack of data available about the
prevalence of domestic and family violence against women from a culturally and
linguistically diverse background, immigrant women and women from a non-English
For example, FECCA observed that '[t]here is currently very limited
comprehensive and accurate data and statistics available concerning culturally
and linguistically diverse women's experiences of domestic and family violence
However, FECCA continued:
Anecdotal evidence shows that the rate of violence
perpetrated against culturally and linguistically diverse women is high, and is
determined by intersectional disadvantages. According to a research compiled by
the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC), some studies on the nature and
the prevalence of domestic abuse in immigrant communities have produced mixed
results, while others have indicated that women from non-English speaking
backgrounds could experience higher levels of violence. Other findings have
indicated that cultural values and diverse immigration experiences add further
complexity in relation to experiences of domestic violence and the likelihood
of women reporting abuse and seeking assistance.
Women's Health West referred to some limited data available from
According to client records of the Women's Domestic Violence
Crisis Service of Victoria, women who were born overseas and are from a
non-English speaking background are over-represented as users of domestic
violence support services. They represent 37.5 per cent of women accessing the
service and only 17.3 per cent of the total Victorian population.
The Queensland Domestic Violence Network described research findings on
the nature and prevalence of physical and sexual violence against women from
CALD backgrounds as offering 'mixed results':
[S]ome studies have found that women from non-English
speaking [or CALD] backgrounds experience higher levels of violence, whereas other
studies suggest the rate of physical violence is lower than, or similar to, the
rate among those women from English speaking backgrounds[.]
However, [other studies have reported] 'Immigrant women are
more likely than other women to be murdered as a result of domestic and family
violence and are less likely to receive appropriate assistance from services
when they attempt to leave a violent relationship'[.]
Both Relationships Australia and the Women's Domestic Violence Crisis
Service Victoria noted anecdotal evidence of increasing numbers of women from
CALD backgrounds, or migrant women, accessing their services:
Our members also report seeing increasing numbers of women
and children from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds who
are impacted by family violence either from their own immediate partner
(usually the male partner) or also on occasions from other extended family
members, such as in-laws.
The focus of many submissions was the factors which make women from a
CALD background, immigrant women and women from a non-English speaking
background especially vulnerable and prevent them from seeking help. For
example, inTouch, Multicultural Centre against Family Violence, provided this
An already difficult situation is accentuated by language
difficulties, unfamiliarity with service systems, social dislocation due to
immigration, alienation from culture and community, grief related to
experiences of torture and trauma and limited culturally appropriate services.
After hosting a national roundtable on violence against CALD women on
7 August 2015, the Commonwealth Government announced $160,000 for the
Diversity Data project (to be undertaken by ANROWS) that will review how CALD
women, women with a disability and Indigenous women experience violence and
examine options on how to improve information in future. At the same time, the
government also launched a pre-departure information pack to support women who
are moving to Australia from overseas, providing them with information about
their rights, Australian laws and emergency contacts related to domestic and
Attitudes to violence
In September 2014, the third National Community Attitudes towards
Violence Against Women Survey (NCAS) was released. NCAS was commissioned in
2012 by the then Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and
Indigenous Affairs and conducted by VicHealth in collaboration with The Social
Research Centre and The University of Melbourne.
In summarising the research findings, VicHealth explained the purpose of
Attitudes that condone or tolerate violence are recognised as
playing a central role in shaping the way individuals, organisations and
communities respond to violence. Measuring community attitudes tells us how
well we are progressing towards a violence-free society for all women. It also
reveals the extent of the work that lies ahead, where to focus our efforts, and
the messages and approaches likely to be effective.
In conjunction with the PSS, the NCAS is designed to monitor the
The NCAS was compiled from 17,500 twenty-minute telephone interviews
with a cross-section of Australians aged 16 years and over. There have been two
previous surveys, in 1995 and 2009.
The NCAS aims to investigate four key areas:
gauging community knowledge of, and attitudes towards, violence
against women to identify areas that need attention in future;
assessing changes in attitudes between the 1995, 2009 and 2013 NCAS;
improving understanding of factors influencing knowledge,
attitudes and responses; and
identifying segments of the population that may particularly
benefit from activity to prevent violence.
The overall findings of NCAS were summarised as:
The majority of Australians have a good knowledge of violence
against women and do not endorse most attitudes supportive of this violence.
On the whole, Australians' understanding and attitudes
remained stable between 2009 and 2013. However, when you look at the findings
from individual questions, some areas improved, whereas others became worse.
Young people's attitudes remain an area of concern. Young
people have somewhat more violence-supportive attitudes than others but their
attitudes are gradually improving over time, particularly among young men, with
fewer young people in 2013 holding attitudes at the extreme end of the
People's understanding of violence against women and their
attitudes to gender equality have significant impacts on their attitudes to violence
The National Plan provides for the conduct of the PSS and the NCAS surveys
on a four-year rolling basis as part of the actions to develop the evidence
base. The committee notes that it received evidence criticising the adequacy of
sampling sizes of particular subgroups within the community, such as women with
a disability, and women from CALD and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
The committee understands that national surveys require
substantial lead time, and anticipates that planning, development and testing
for the next PSS – due to be conducted in 2016
– will have, or will soon, commence.
The committee notes that as part of the launch of the Second
Action Plan $1.7 million was announced to help the development of a
national data collection and reporting framework. This amount includes $300,000
for the ABS to augment data sets on victims and offenders.
While this is welcome, the committee has no further detail and would urge the
Australian Bureau of Statistics, along with Commonwealth, state and territory
bodies involved in the development of the PSS to consider the concerns raised
in this inquiry, and endeavour to address those issues prior to the conduct of
the next PSS.
The committee recommends that the Australian Bureau of
Statistics, along with Commonwealth, state and territory bodies involved in the
development of the Personal Safety Survey consider the concerns raised during
this inquiry about the adequacy of sampling sizes of particular subgroups
within the community, such as women with a disability, women from culturally
and linguistically diverse backgrounds, immigrant and refugee women, and Indigenous
communities and endeavour to address these issues prior to the conduct of the
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